Not long ago, when most people were still fairly attuned to nature, it was commonly noted that her flowers resembled lovers entwined, thereby making “Love Bind,” as she was sometimes called, a symbol of devotion and love. In Victorian times, it was said that if one brought a Honeysuckle bouquet into the house, a wedding would follow within the year. Prudence being the operative theme in those days, perhaps marriage was the only possible option for release of wanton desires, for it was well-known that the perfume that spills from her honey-lipped blossoms would spark dreams of passion and desire.
If there is any plant that I have a love-hate relationship with…its honeysuckle. On one hand, its fragrant and tasty and medicinal. On the other hand, its a pervasively invasive species that does an incredible amount of damage to native ecosystems. When it comes to plants like these (kudzu, garlic mustard, mimosa, etc), I’m particularly bloodthirsty (sapthirsty?) and more than happy to pick ’em til they’re gone (a number of parks are more than happy to let you rid them of invasive species, if you ask the persons in charge of them).
There are about 180 species of honeysuckle, most native to the northern hemisphere. The greatest number of species is in China with over 100. North America and Europe have only about 20 native species each, and the ones in Europe are usually toxic. Taste is not a measure of toxicity. Some Lonicera have delicious berries that are quite toxic and some have unpalatable berries that are not toxic at all. This is one plant on which taste is not a measure of edibility. Properly identify the species.
(from one of my fave wild edible sites, Eat the weeds)
Our favorite way to enjoy honeysuckle, of course, is sucking the nectar out of the bottom of the freshly picked flower…but we also dry the flower buds and fresh blooms to use in teas and salves. I’m more then happy to pick as many of the flowers as possible, because less flowers mean less berries, and less berries mean less seeds, and less seeds, mean less honeysuckle plants taking over and smothering native plants. Unfortunately, honeysuckle is a difficult plant to control the growth and spread of.
Japanese honeysuckle is a perennial vine that climbs by twisting its stems around vertical structures, including limbs and trunks of shrubs and small trees. Leaves are oblong to oval, sometimes lobed, have short stalks, and occur in pairs along the stem. In southern and mid-Atlantic states, Japanese honeysuckle often remains evergreen – its leaves remain attached through the winter. In colder northern climates, the leaves may fall off after exposure to prolonged winter temperatures. Flowers are tubular, with five fused petals, white to pink, turning yellow with age, very fragrant, and occur in pairs along the stem at leaf junctures. Stems and leaves are sometimes covered with fine, soft hairs. Japanese honeysuckle blooms from late April through July and sometimes into October. Small black fruits (photo) are produced in autumn, each containing 2-3 oval to oblong, dark brown seeds about 1/4 inch across.
(from the National Park Service’s “Least Wanted” list)
Parts of interest: Harvest the unopened blooms early in the morning for infusions or tinctures. Open blooms can also be harvested for tea and for culinary preparations (honey suckle flowers are tasty in salads). The young leaves and vine tips of Japanese honeysuckle are edible after boiling (I haven’t tried this myself yet)–the big thing to remember here is the “after boiling”–the leaves are said to have high levels of saponins, which can make you sick to your tummy, but are mostly removed through parboiling, and not readily absorbed through the human digestive tract anyhow. Additionally, it is reported that the vines themselves can be used for basketry. DO NOT INGEST THE BERRIES! Reports of toxicity vary, but honeysuckle berries are generally agreed to be mildly poisonous in most species.
How to prepare flowers: There are a number of ways to use honeysuckle blooms. First, consider drying them for later use in infusions. Honeysuckle makes an excellent additive in salves, and a lovely and fragrant infusion. The unopened blooms are best for drying, but the opened blossoms are suitable for using fresh. Flowers can be candied, used to make a simple syrup (which can even be used in adult beverages), infused in honey, or turned into jelly.
What its good for: Medicinally, honeysuckle has been traditionally recommended to combat inflammation, fever, infection, and skin conditions. Magically, it is said to attract friends, love, prosperity, fidelity, and clear thinking.
Errata: Honeysuckle is a plant that has quite a bit of disagreement about its use–which species and which parts of a particular species should be used for which ailments, which parts of the plants from which species are safe, etc. If you choose to forage for honeysuckle as a food or medicine, please do so with caution.